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Covenant House

Building a reliable donor community through authentic storytelling.

The Challenge

Sustainably increase revenue for a nonprofit organization facing declining returns on digital.

The Insight

Be real. Tell authentic and engaging stories that center the young people you’re serving.

The Solution

A refreshed creative direction and identity that helped set records in digital fundraising, and reshaped peer-to-peer and direct mail programs along the way.

Covenant House provides crisis care, shelter, food, and support to youth facing homelessness. At the start of our four-year, ongoing partnership, their compelling story and mission wasn’t breaking through to digital supporters. 

Despite the organization’s impressive impact in communities across the country, they were struggling to build year-over-year digital revenue. 

When Covenant House came to Blue State, they were ready to rethink their approach. They had been running the same, repeated digital campaigns for several years in a row and were often leaning into generic messaging and imagery to depict the communities they serve. 

We shifted away from stock imagery and bleak messaging, moving towards vibrant and uplifting creative that is centered on the young people Covenant House reaches through their transformative work.

Humanize hardship

Balancing urgency and hope can be difficult. 

Many organizations show the severity of their cause by leaning on stereotypically “sad” imagery and building on negative empathy. However, by showing real people, real experiences, real stories you can bring life and authenticity to a cause and bring dignity to those you serve, making them more than a statistic. 

We worked with the Covenant House team to bring the stories of their community to life in a beautiful and engaging way through photography, and by elevating their existing brand for the digital space which in turn captivated their audience. 

Collection of old versus new creative for Covenant House. On the left, two examples showing imagery of sad teenagers, holding up sign for "help." On the right, creative showcasing imagery of their actual community.
Old versus new creative for the Covenant House email program.

The new creative direction also inspired changes in Covenant House’s peer-to-peer fundraising and direct mail messaging. 

Challenge stereotypes 

To truly challenge stereotypes, it’s not just about the pictures you use or the words you write; to dismantle stereotypes, you must prompt people to question their assumptions. 

That’s the motive behind the interactive experience we built for Covenant House — a “choose your own adventure” style quiz that illuminates the realities of homelessness and challenges the common misconception that if people just “made better choices” they wouldn’t be in the situations they find themselves. 

The “What Would You Do” experience generated high levels of engagement, and many users were inspired to follow through with a donation. 

Moments matter

Covenant House needed a tent-pole fundraising moment that would bring in big revenue outside of the year-end giving period. We created March Meal Match, a now annual campaign that spotlights the important role Covenant House plays in combating food insecurity among youth facing homelessness. 

However, when COVID-19 hit in March 2020, our teams moved quickly to adapt our March Meal Match messaging to rise to the needs of the current moment. 

We replaced our planned copy with real-time stories from Covenant House sites, and statistics about the rise in homelessness and hunger as a result of the pandemic, to connect our campaign directly to what was happening in the world. As a result of this quick action, we increased returns across digital by 180% year over year. 

We then helped Covenant House communicate transparently about the severe impact COVID-19 had on their community. We used digital channels to elevate powerful, real-time updates from Covenant House President Kevin Ryan. Kevin helped give supporters a potent glimpse into the day-to-day struggles faced by Covenant House’s front line staff and the youth they served throughout the early days of the pandemic. 

The connection between the moment and the organization felt natural, not forced.

Covenant House’s highly responsive list contributed even more in response to these letters — helping the organization raise a record $1M+ for single gift online revenue in April alone.

Build sustained generosity 

The rest of the year saw similar growth. By prioritizing transparency, Covenant House saw a 45% increase in email fundraising revenue alone year over year. 

The lessons were clear: To build sustained generosity, uplift the stories of those you serve. That genuine connection will resonate and motivate your donor communities to take action.


  • 45% increase in email revenue YOY
  • 53% increase in average email recurring gift size
  • 180% increased returns across digital YOY
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